So your band is ready to play out. You have the sets all worked out, equipment is ready and now it is time to book some dates. If you haven’t booked a gig yet, get ready. Because how much you charge is going to come up pretty early in the conversation with whoever is booking you.
There is no easy answers. In fact, every new business or freelancer will come across this situation. If you ask for too much, you may not get the gig. If you ask for too little you may be leaving money on the table.
Is It Art or Entertainment?
This may sound sarcastic but it is not. Are you a songwriter who wants to share some new songs for someone other than your roommates or are you playing Rolling Stones songs?
Like it or not, most people do not want to sit for an hour or night listening to someone play songs they never heard. No matter how good they are! There are exceptions to the rule but this is generally true. Therefore, a new band playing originals is going to have a weaker hand when it comes for demanding money.
It’s ironic. A cover band can make money pretty early in their career but will be limited in their earning potential. An original band may struggle in the beginning but has the potential to get famous and make big bucks.
The point is – if you are playing your music, you are essentially investing in your art. You may be willing to play for less or even nothing. In return, more people hear your music. If you are playing covers, your goal is to entertain. You are offering a service.
Don’t Play for Free!
“Dude, play my party, it’s gonna be great. I can’t pay you but you and the guys can drink all the beer you want!” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this. I’ve entertained these offers in the past but today I just kindly tell them I can sit at home and drink all the beer I want!
It’s really obnoxious when you think about it. Would you offer a car mechanic all the beer he wanted in exchange for a new transmission? Ever met a dentist who works for beer? If you did, would you trust him with a drill in your mouth?
You are offering a service. It’s not just the time you are there, its the time it took to get to the gig, the time the band took to practice, the equipment you are using, the experience you have. Don’t be afraid, don’t be embarrassed to ask for money. Worse case scenario, you don’t get a gig. Think about it, the mobile DJ probably won’t do the gig for free.
There are few exceptions – it’s your party or it’s a benefit, but in general I’d say no.
What about bar offering you a gig in exchange for exposure? This rarely works out. If you are talking about a bar that generally has hundreds of customers who enjoy your type of music? Maybe one free gig but I’d prefer a half priced gig.
So How Much Do You Charge?
Think of it as a business transaction. Think of minimum amount you want per band member. In the 90’s, when I first started playing at bars, we wanted a minimum of $50 a guy. Today, we are closer to $100 a guy. I don’t mind playing for $75 if the gig is really close, convenient hours or just a really cool bar.
Keep in mind, I live about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia in a relatively populated area. There is a decent about of bands but also a decent amount of bars. My band also has little to no following.
Reasons to Demand More Money
- You have a following
- You know the bar pays other bands
- Your band is great and plays what people want
- Your band has experience
Reasons to Accept Less
- The bar has a house PA
- It’s your hangout
- It has a receptive or fun crowd
- They offer a steady gig
I hope this helps you determine how much your band should charge. Just remember the idea of a market. If you are getting tons of gigs at a particular price, it may be time to raise the raise. If nobody hires you because you too expensive, it may be time to lower the price.
Keep on picking!